NFC North Tour: Less Is More

In Chicago, Matt Forte will have the backfield burden eased by veteran Chester Taylor. In Detroit, Tony Scheffler returns to the practice field for Detroit and is excited about fresh start to career. In Minnesota, E.J. Henderson has ambitious comeback goal.

Chicago Bears

For his first two years in the NFL, running back Matt Forte was clearly the main man in the Bears' running attack.

As a rookie in 2008, Forte had a whopping 379 touches, rushing 316 times for 1,238 yards with eight touchdowns and catching a team-best 63 passes for 477 yards and four more scores. No other Bears had more than 34 rushing attempts. Last season, Forte's carries dropped to 258, but that was still more than twice the total of every other Bears ball-carrier combined, and none of them had more than 40 carries. And Forte added 57 catches, tied for second on the team, for 471 yards.

But now, for the first time in his professional career, Forte will be asked to share the load. The offseason acquisition of veteran Chester Taylor gives the Bears a solid one-two punch with no expected drop-off from Forte, who is still the starter, to Taylor. Both players are versatile enough to run inside and outside and also provide another threat in the passing game.

The way Forte is looking at it, less could be more. He is neither put off by the competition nor surprised that Taylor was brought in.

"This is the NFL," Forte said after Wednesday's organized team activity. "People are going to be brought in and out of the mix. Competition is part of the game. If you're afraid of competition you shouldn't be playing anyway, so I come out here and compete every day."

There was speculation that the heavy load Forte carried as a rookie caused his productivity to drop last year, when his average yards per carry dipped from 3.9 to 3.6. He was also hampered by an offseason hamstring injury that lingered into the season. Taylor's presence will reduce the wear and tear on Forte, and vice versa.

"A lot of teams have a two-running back system and actually it prolongs both their careers," Forte said, "so I don't mind having him here to take some reps and get in there as long as we win games and it's working."

In offseason work, Forte appears to have recaptured the quickness he showed as a rookie that sometimes seemed to be lacking last season.

"I feel a lot faster," he said. "I'm not injured during OTAs unlike last year (the hamstring), and at the end of last season I had (arthroscopic) knee surgery. But I got that healed up, and I actually went down to Florida and did some training so I could re-do the speed training and stuff that I did before that I wasn't (able) to do because of my injuries."

A healthy Forte, even if he cedes some of the backfield work to Taylor, could put up some impressive numbers in the Mike Martz offensive scheme that spawned record-breaking stats for Marshall Faulk a decade ago. From 1999 through 2001, Faulk averaged 2,225 yards of total offense and scored 59 touchdowns.

"You don't even have to look at the numbers, just the name of Marshall Faulk," Forte said. "We watch a lot of old film on them, when they had Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and all those guys, and it just makes you get excited about how good this offense can be with some of the talented guys we've got on this team that can fit those positions."

With Taylor complementing him, Forte won't threaten Faulk's numbers, but if the Bears' offense thrives under Martz, he'll still be a huge part of the resurgence.

Bears extra points

— Unrestricted free agent Pisa Tinoisamoa was re-signed for the second straight season after winning the job a year ago in training camp but playing less than one full game before a knee injury sidelined him for the season in the first month.

So, Tinoisamoa will have to win his job back from Nick Roach, who stepped in after the veteran was injured and led the team with 10 tackles for loss in 2009 and played well enough in 15 starts to remain with the first team.

"Nick Roach is a good football player," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He can do it all. He's a good rusher. We'll be comfortable with him there."

Roach had a strained hamstring during minicamp that wasn't considered serious, but he is back on the field for OTAs. Roach started 15 games last season and was fourth on the team with 82 tackles and tied for first with 10 tackles for loss.

"We'll take our time with Nick," coach Lovie Smith said. "He has a hammy that's a little sore. He's gone through all of the off-season work, so we know what Nick is about."

Tinoisamoa took most of the first-team reps on the strong side during minicamp, but he has been limited, too, because of last season's knee surgery. During most of the OTAs, Roach has been close to 100 percent, while Tinoisamoa is still not practicing full speed.

While Roach is ahead in their battle, it will probably not be decided until training camp.

— Even though coordinator Mike Martz is rarely at a loss for words, especially when the topic is offensive football, it was difficult for him to offer much of an assessment on sixth-round quarterback Dan LeFevour's progress at the full-team minicamp.

"It's pretty hard to judge," Martz said. "He's a rookie. We don't give him much right now. He's lucky to find the huddle from the sideline right now, so that's kind of the way it goes. But he's very promising, I like his ability, and he's really a student of the game. He's worked hard at learning what we do.

"The worst thing we could do right now is put him in there and give him a bunch of plays. We'd like to have him be a spectator as much as possible for a while and (bring him along slowly) because you can kind of break a guy's confidence. So we're very careful about how much we give him."

— The Bears will hold training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais for the ninth straight summer, beginning on July 30 and going through Aug. 20.

The campus is located 60 miles south of Chicago, and fans will again be able to watch practice free of charge.

Detroit Lions

The boot is off, and so tight end Tony Scheffler is finally off and running with the Lions. After a minor foot injury kept him out of organized team activities, Scheffler returned for two OTAs recently and made what coach Jim Schwartz called big-time catches.

"He's a big target," Schwartz said. "He's got great natural hands. He's got good speed. Just real savvy in the pass game. He was a little bit behind because he spent some time in the boot. But he's back now, and it's not even a concern right now. We're starting to get him with the quarterback more and more, and we're starting to see the role that he's going to take in the offense."

Tony Scheffler
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
With 2009 first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew recovering from a torn knee ligament, the Lions wanted some insurance. They also wanted another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

So, they acquired Scheffler and a seventh-round pick from the Broncos in April, while sending linebacker Ernie Sims to the Eagles in a three-team trade. Philadelphia sent a fifth-round pick to Denver.

Scheffler wasn't happy with the way things went last season after new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels came in and traded quarterback Jay Cutler. His numbers dipped. He was benched for the season finale.

So, he was happy to hear from Lions coach Jim Schwartz about the trade.

"One of the questions was if I wanted to be a part of what was going on," Scheffler said. "I was thrilled. I couldn't be any more happier, not only for myself but for my family. It's just a lot of dreams come true kind of getting back here and playing for the Lions."

Scheffler is from the Detroit area. He said ticket requests have been "just a little overwhelming," so he has delegated that duty to some of his supporters. He also played at Western Michigan, spending a season with the Lions' up-and-coming safety, Louis Delmas.

"He still talks as much as he did when he was a freshman in college," Scheffler said with a smile. "I was a fifth-year senior at Western, and he came in as a true freshman, green as they come. And boy, he was chirping, though, like a little bird. That was the one of the things that was 'welcome back,' was to hear his voice chirping over there in the locker room."

Lions extra points

— Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill doesn't have a rocket arm like starter Matthew Stafford. His delivery is a little quirky, sidearm, maybe short-arm, a little like a third baseman or a catcher.

But coach Jim Schwartz is confident Hill can do the job if needed.

"It doesn't always look pretty," Schwartz said. "I don't know if you're ever going to say effortless and Shaun Hill and a pass together, like you did with Matt. It's not disrespect to Shaun. I mean, that's what he has, and he finds a way to get it done."

Hill might be the ideal backup for the Lions. He's happy behind Stafford. He is comfortable playing without practice reps. And he has a history with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Hill knows the drill. He didn't attempt a pass until the 13th game of his sixth season. Then he showed he could play by going 10-6 as a starter over three seasons with the 49ers, posting impressive statistics — 61.7 percent completion rate, 3,490 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The first time Hill attempted a pass, with the 49ers in 2007, he hadn't practiced in four weeks because of a broken index finger. He didn't practice much the next two weeks, either, and still won his first two starts.

"So, I've done that, and I feel totally comfortable coming in without any reps," Hill said. "What I do is, I take my practice reps against our defense and I treat them as if it's our plays. When I see the picture, I call the play in the huddle as if it's our play, so that the other guys kind of get that same thing. I call our protections in the huddle so that we feel like we're getting some of our reps as well."

— Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu apparently intended no pun as he described a drill the Lions have been doing with a 6-foot, 300-pound tire.

"It's pretty tiring for your upper body," Ciurciu said. "If you don't have your feet in the right place, you kind of get pushed around."

The Lions stand the tire on end. One player faces the "O," another faces it on the opposite side and they push it back and forth, striking it at the top. "It's just to work on your leverage," Ciurciu said. "Keep your hips down, your feet in the ground. Just explode out. That's what we do a lot when we take on linemen and fullbacks and stuff like that. It's just getting that engraved in our head since we can't really do it now, so we use the tire to practice our technique."

Minnesota Vikings

After suffering a gruesome leg injury in December at Arizona, E.J. Henderson recently said his goal is to be ready to take part in training camp and be on the field for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 in New Orleans.

You have to admire the Vikings' middle linebacker for having such a lofty goal coming off a terrible injury. But the reality is that Henderson will have to show patience as he tries to come back from a broken femur in his left leg.

E.J. Henderson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
That means there is a good possibility that second-year linebacker Jasper Brinkley will start the season in the middle.

Brinkley, a fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2009, stepped in as a rookie after Henderson was injured. It was clear the hard-hitting Brinkley was comfortable against the run but had plenty to learn about playing against the pass.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier seems pleased with Brinkley's progress this offseason.

"Jasper has really improved," Frazier said. "We have no qualms with Jasper being our starting linebacker if that's the case. He's really improved and the more snaps he gets the better he's going to get. He's been everything we've hoped for knowing the possibility that E.J. could be injured. That's why (Brinkley) was drafted and he's been great."

Henderson also has been impressed by Brinkley and has tried to tutor the young linebacker during meetings that have been part of Organized Team Activities this offseason.

"When I see some of his tape from last year I always give him my thoughts," Henderson said. "Jasper is a second-year player now but his mindset is way older than that so I don't think we have to worry too much about him being prepared or him ready to play if knock on wood something happens where I can't play. I don't think we have to worry about him."

— The Vikings are holding their mandatory minicamp this weekend at Winter Park, and Adrian Peterson is absent.

The Pro Bowl running back is scheduled to be honored Saturday during the fourth annual Adrian Peterson Day in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, and thus will miss the double session scheduled for that day.

The Vikings minicamp opened on Friday and concludes on Sunday with single practices, and it would not be surprising if Peterson did not attend either of those.

"I just know that there's a bunch of guys here," coach Brad Childress said. "This has the term mandatory for a reason. The work's here."

Peterson has been working out in Houston during the Vikings' organized team activities and hasn't been part of the team's offseason program. Asked if players like Peterson, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Antoine Winfield might be using Brett Favre's example as an excuse to skip the voluntary OTAs, Childress called Favre a "special circumstance."

It's not like he couldn't use a little work. Peterson has 16 fumbles, including 10 lost, in the past two regular seasons. He also had two fumbles (none lost) in the NFC title game at New Orleans and could have been charged with a third that did result in a turnover.

—DE Ray Edwards also isn't attending the mandatory minicamp but does plan to sign the one-year, $2.521 million tender off he received from the team by Tuesday. That date is key because if the restricted free agent does not sign by then the Vikings could drop the tender to 110 percent of Edwards' 2009 base salary. That would mean he would make $1.1 million in 2010. Edwards can't be fined for missing the camp because he technically isn't under contract.

—Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on how the team's young cornerbacks have done during OTAs: "Asher Allen has really stepped up and had a great set of OTAs. Now, you've got to get to pads, but he's done well. (Second-round pick) Chris Cook has done a good job for us, Benny Sapp has done a good job. All those corners have really come along. Lito Sheppard is still learning the system because there are a few tweaks on what he remembers from Philadelphia but still there is some carry over from him. But he's been at the OTAs, he's helped us a lot. I think we're going to be all right at corner." Starting corners Antoine Winfield (foot) and Cedric Griffin (ACL) are coming off injuries.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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